DOE Helps Bioenergy Research Get Underway

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) yesterday announced it has invested nearly $30 million in end-of-fiscal-year (2007) funds to accelerate the start-up of its three new Bioenergy Research Centers, bringing the total DOE Bioenergy Research Center investment to over $400 million.

The three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers-located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Madison, Wisconsin; and near Berkeley, California-bring together multidisciplinary teams of scientists to advance research needed to make cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels commercially viable on a national scale, a key part of President Bush’s Advanced Energy Initiative Twenty in Ten Plan. 

The $9.97 million per Center announced yesterday enables the three Centers to immediately begin research activities and comes in addition to the $375 million (over five years) the DOE announced it would invest.

According to DOE Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach, “This early infusion of funds will permit the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers to get to work immediately on the basic, transformational science needed to make environmentally friendly biofuels cost-effective, [and] increase their use for transportation.”

In addition to geographic diversity, the three Centers are pursuing complementary scientific agendas. 

  • The DOE ORNL Bioenergy Sciences Center will focus on the resistance of plant fiber to breakdown into sugars and is studying the potential energy crops poplar and switchgrass.
  • The DOE UWM Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center is studying a range of plants and, in addition to exploring plant fiber breakdown, aims to increase plant production of starches and oils, which are more easily converted to fuels. This Center also has a major focus on sustainability, examining the environmental and socioeconomic implications of moving to a biofuels economy.
  • The DOE LBNL Joint Bioenergy Institute will concentrate on “model” crops of rice and Arabidopsis, in the search for game-changing breakthroughs in basic science, and is exploring microbial-based synthesis of fuels beyond ethanol.
As part of the President’s energy initiatives, in 2007, the DOE has announced over $1 billion, subject to appropriations from Congress, in a multi-year biofuels research and development investment.